Have you ever stopped and thought about — and I mean really contemplated — all the place you've had your boobs out as a breastfeeding mother? Sure, there are the obvious locations: coffee shops, friends' houses, the back seats of cars. Amateur stuff. Once you've been around the block a few times like me, you'll realize that you're more of an exhibitionist than a drunk chick on Spring break.
If they gave out beads for that kind of flashing, your neck would be weighed down heavier than your bra.
But alas, the only reward for the hours of hard work spent learning the latch, the gallons of milk squeezed from our bodies like blood from a stone, and the happy children we have fed are disgruntled stares from strange men and judgmental huffs from prudish old women. Those, and of course, the stories.
I've spent more time topless in my 30s than I did in my 20s. Significantly more. And I've unleashed my beasts in multiple countries, over international waters, and on two different continents. I've nursed in restaurants, grocery stores, and even bars. I've cooked dinner, answered the door for the UPS guy, and changed diapers, all with a baby clamped onto my body like a leach. I've nursed at the zoo and been stared at with equal intrigue by the male patrons and by the gibbons behind the glass.
But my favorite nursing story is as much a hilarious tale of public nudity and embarrassment as it is a triumph of female power and the beauty and self-sufficiency of breastfeeding. Plus, it makes me feel like a badass, so I'll take any excuse I can to retell it.
When my third child was 4 months old, my husband and I decided — stupidly, I might add — that it would be a good idea to take all three kids (under 5) on a 10-day road trip through the southern United States. As you do.
We were in Chattanooga, TN, and the baby was howling in the backseat. Again. So we decided to stop and check out some underground waterfall the hotel concierge had suggested. I nursed her in the car after we parked and thought: this will be perfect. I'll feed her now, put her in the front pack, and she can look at the waterfall — then as she's about to fall asleep, we'll get back in the car and move on.
It was a simple and beautiful plan. The older kids would get a chance to stretch their legs, and we'd be free to drive for another hour or so before I needed to feed the baby again. It was a win-win . . . which, as most seasoned parents know, is actually code for impending doom. And this time was no exception. What I thought was going to be a quick walk into a cave, a glance at a pretty waterfall, and a speedy and painless exit turned out to be an ordeal that involved waiting over an hour. It started with the world's longest line and ended with an unexpected guided tour that lasted another hour . . . far beneath the surface of the earth where there was not only no graceful exit, but no exit at all.
There was no escape.
I knew the moment we stepped out of the elevator into the narrow pathways snaking through the dark cave that it was only a matter of time before my peacefully sleeping baby woke up hungry and echoed her displeasure into the cavernous void. It occurred to me more than once that while I've never heard of an angry baby causing an avalanche, I couldn't rule it out. So the moment she stirred, I began looking for a place to sit in the shadows and feed her.
Except there were no seats.
Only long passages with just enough space between the steep walls to fit a grown man with reasonably wide shoulders. If they stood sideways, two adults could slip past each other if they were willing to get up close and personal. But there was nowhere to sit. So, I did what any self-respecting, breastfeeding mother who is terrified of being buried alive would do: I moved to the back of the line, yanked down my shirt and nursed my daughter while looking at the stalactites and stalagmites.
It was hard work, and it wasn't pretty. The baby kept pulling away and spraying milk at the walls like a Jackson Pollack painting, but I was getting the job done and she was quiet.
I was feeling pretty proud of my stealthy partial nudity until we came upon another tour group headed down the same path from the other direction. Our guide told us to line up along the wall with our backs against the stone so that the other group could sneak past. And then there was no more hiding it. There I stood, shoulder to shoulder, with Bob from Poughkeepsie, his petite wife Susan with the perfectly sculpted nails, and me with my slurping baby, veiny boob, and now very damp shirt.
I earned more than a few looks from passersby that afternoon, and I was stuck with the decision of whether or not to turn my back to people and hide or hold my chin up and smile as people brushed past my very exposed breast. I chose the latter. And it turns out, for every crinkled nose and gasp of shock, I received at least a few nods of approval and smiles of camaraderie.
We've all been there before, caught between a rock and a hard place (sometimes literally) and just doing the best we can as parents. And as more and more people bumped past me, I realized I had nothing to be ashamed of. I was doing what was best for me and for my baby . . . not to mention the dozens of innocent lives that would have been lost when my daughter caused the first ever hunger-tantrum-induced cave in.
You're welcome, people.